On Thursday the USNS Bowditch was conducting underwater research off the coast of the Philippines when their UUV (Unmanned Underwater Vehicle) was taken by a nearby Chinese vessel. The vehicle was measuring water temperature and salinity and was well into international waters for its entire trip. Pentagon Spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis called for the vehicles immediate return saying that:
The UUV was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea. It’s a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water – that it was US property.
This incident comes only days after US aerial photographs discovered anti-aircraft guns along the shore of China’s new (legally dubious) man-made island. China had formerly promised that the island would not serve any sort of military purpose, but upon being discovered a Chinese spokesperson called the positioning of weapons “necessary, proper and legitimate.”
The capture of the American research vessel also comes only a week after America’s incoming President made a series of comments questioning the legitimacy of China’s rule over Taiwan. After taking a phone call from the Taiwanese President he said that he doesn’t necessarily intend to respect America’s ‘One China Policy.’ The policy allows the US to sell Taiwan weapons to protect itself as long as it recognizes China diplomatically.
While some are heralding Trump’s move as a step forward for Taiwan, many others are concerned that instability may lead to greater conflict for the small nation or even outright war with the mainland. If Trump really thinks he can free Taiwan and has plans to protect them in the result of a Chinese attack then that would be one thing. But it seems far more likely that he’s allowing this small nation to become a pawn in one of his PR stunts regardless of what the outcome might be for Taiwan. Either way he’s managed to sour Chinese relations before he’s even taken office.
Featured Image via Mark Wilson/Getty